A note on: Richard Marshall's epic review of The Wrestlers


the sacrifice throw: sj fowler’s the wrestlers

By Richard Marshall. - - - S.J. Fowler, The Wrestlers, KU Press 2008.

Poetry was born at a very young age, just like me. But there’s a very old consciousness here, one wanting to create his own metaphor for poetry. Torn between realism, wanting to reproduce things as they are – the conversations, asides, fragmentary sights, because they’re strong and necessary as metaphors – and invention, via dislocation or substitution of materials or shape, or contrasts which by themselves take the object as it were away from both itself and the originals, there’s a sense of pushing and pulling both ways from all directions. And everything tends towards yielding materials that are being pushed around like this, and pulled, which are the very strong subjectivities in play but also a subjectivity you and I can have  and share in, so this is push and pull, or fancy dialectics where ‘being clever is not armour’, as Fowler has it early on, where his ‘…  hill of necessity turns to taste’, shows ‘taste’ as just this, you fighting with your other selves, or something like that. Sometimes nothing intrudes on other people’s rearrangements, making substitutions metaphors and nothing something. It’s all wrestling.

And in wrestling we’re conscious of rigid objects falling apart. The whole solid thing – perhaps we’re meant to think of this as society or culture or maybe just poetry or art or more likely just ourselves – it’s grasped as a sense of eerie collapse and sublime disintegration, something that we won’t be able to catch with just words printed out. And then the idea of putting that idea up in print and wondering whether we can actually have a sense of what it all meant. To do that. That too becomes wrestling.

Language has a habit – or maybe it’s its very nature – of reverberating back to its original image or sense, yielding a prejudice towards naturalism that is inevitable. This is where poetry disappears and you see the original, and then remember or experience the tension between the original and this, whatever we’re reading or hearing, and the poetry reappears. It’s very realistic, you can imagine it as a certain language, as English. As being spoken or rubbed. Fowler shows us this, a thisthat’s been imagined in this state of high degree. Rilke was able to identify with the tree. Suzuki with a pencil. Cage with sounds, rocks, plants and people. Fowler with wrestling and poetry. Or better, one as the other, and vice versa.

Fowler’s interested in permutations and parts so that the shape, size and mannerisms – especially of the bodies, that’s what’s intriguing him. How the wrestlers in the relief can be taken from different angles and overlapping interests, and none of the things have a central point or vanishing point or any point even, obviously, but might be put one inside the other like Russian dolls, wondering what we might anticipate and what might result, or has already resulted. Fowler has a real interest in this, like it’s an interface with the soul, a ready-made, a proletarian quality that belies any suggestion that the more money you have the more abstraction can be laid on you. Here the degradation that is luxury isn’t the point. This is an art as mythology, as sexuality and as morality. But mainly it’s desire.

So the poems work with everything and everything we’re left to say afterwards is just to say whether we get a sense of life from them or not. That has to be what can’t be avoided, to ask not whether they’re contained somewhere somehow in our lives but rather, do they settle our lives? What gives them life is ‘life’ not the process of understanding the process, nor the poet working out of her skin to accomplish certain things. But the poems are by-products of an activity and Fowler is remarkable in his ability to understand that, delineate it and have them settle with life, real and expansive and rich. The wrestlers are perfect for him – he takes them so lightly because he’s so serious about them – wrestling that is, not so much the actual art work he’s pivoting off – and so there’s his ability to make the tension work in terms of the subject matter – the repeated tropes of wrestling and wrestling with and wrestling between and so on. Its not myth, or morality driving him though but it is desire. What this does is eliminate composition, form, arrangement, relationship, figure, well, not really, but you see what I mean; there is just this thing he wants to get hold of, stick it at the centre of the page, like an account of an anatomy, of a fight, of a gesture, of a position and not get distracted, flustered or even wonder whether or not that’s a great idea to do or not. Because when the hell did we rely on artists of any stripe to have a great idea? We don’t need their ideas – and Fowler gets this – we need their art. And Fowler here is fresh with desire for the Gaudier-Brzeska but he’s not spooling out ideas. What we’re getting is his desire to be inside and outside the work, happy to be alive now not anywhere else, not in ideas, not in showing us omens and philosophy and theory but, well, just being here in poetry. Or whatever bits of poetry might be left over after. Or to come. .......................................... cont;d